I’ve always found Halloween to be the best time of the year. As the temperature drops, it’s a chance to embrace the spooky side of life. The mind wanders to haunted graveyards, looming supernatural occurrences, and terrors of the night. As I often think of my friends and I as black-cloaked Grim Reapers in training, waiting to earn our death scythe’s – it’s a nightmare come true.
This year I had the pleasure of spending Halloween weekend on a farm in northern Maryland with a capacity of several thousand. When you consider the size and scope of the grounds, it’s actually quite a small and intimate event; this is perhaps one of its best qualities. Nightmare Festival technically began in 2010 as a one-night-only Halloween rave known as Psychedelic Nightmare in a secret D.C. warehouse. Over the years, its evolved into a signature two-day gathering by the original Badass Raves team.
With headliners such as Figure presenting Terrorvision (which what more can you want on Halloween), Skism, Midnight Tyrannosaurus, Boogie T, Quix, and much more – it’s established itself as a top-tier event in terms of talent bookings. But where it really shines, is in its ability to create a pocket of transient 90’s rave culture if only for a weekend. You can stumble into any of the stages, and you’ll find music from local or upcoming DJs that rivals performances at some of the biggest festivals in the nation. It’s all about the vibe, and Nightmare Festival gets it right.
Over the course of the weekend, many of my favorite sets came from friends deserving far more traction. I think it might be the fact you go in without any expectations, but then they’ll spin tunes that’ll hit you. I met Evan Riley, a Philadelphia-native earlier in the day when he commented on my Joyryde “I WARE HOUSE” jacket, and like that you make friends. I was having a rough Friday night and when I came to catch his set, he ended up closing out with my favorite Virtual Riot track “Never Let Me Go.” I was surrounded by friends and it’s moments like that you can’t recreate. It’s about finding that insane drum & bass set, which to say, Des McMahon and Reid Speed both delivered big time.
On the other end of the spectrum, I saw widely impressive performances from the main stage headliners. Skism and Megalodon took over Friday night for a Never Say Die rampage. On Saturday, I finally understood the hype around Boogie T and the riddim + guitar concept he’s putting out. Midnight Tyrannosaurus had a 10 minute reel of Rick and Morty visuals, which was incredible. When it came time for Figure’s TerrorVision he surprised us all, with a b2b2b performance with Boogie T and Midnight T, I don’t think any of us will forget. It was a spooktacular nightmare.
For the rest of the night, I mostly hung out with my friends, which is kind of what these events are really all about. I also ground scored a Stitch, however I didn’t keep it because I thought the person who lost it might be sad, so maybe I didn’t really ground score it – but I did snag a pic. After the madness of the headliners, we headed over to the barn to watch our friends Johnny and Jaleel, known as The Banditz, who played a surprise b2b again with Figure for what was the most fun experience of the night.
Overall, Nightmare Festival captures an energy, and a moment in time that’s really special. They connect people and create culture. In a scene that’s over-saturated, they offer an experience I haven’t been able to find quite elsewhere on the East Coast. If you’re ever looking for real rave culture, well, now you know where to find it.
Words: Cassie Sheets
Photos: Cassie Sheets on 35 mm film. Additional photos from Jared Oppenheim and the Nightmare Festival galleries (Alio Graphics, C2H2 photography, Dstath Photography, Grayson Hall Photography, & RivkinPhotos), and edited by NEST HQ for consistency.